The club's predecessor was called Shanghai F.C. and they predominantly played in the top tier, where they won several domestic league and cup titles. In 1993, the club was reorganised to become a completely professional football club. Since then, they have won the 1995 league title and 1998 Chinese FA Cup.
Shanghai Shenhua's predecessor was originally called East China and were founded in October 1951 by the local Shanghai government sports body to take part in China's first fully nationalized national football league tournament where they finished second in the league that year. The football league gradually expanded and the team were allowed to name themselves after their own province of Shanghai in 1957. Soon afterwards by 1961, Shanghai started to establish themselves as a major football team within China when they won their first league title. This was then quickly followed by their second league title in 1962, however in 1966 because of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, football in China was halted and Shanghai were unable to play. When football returned in China, Shanghai were able to return to the top tier, however they were unable to regain any of the dominance that they had previously shown and were even relegated in 1980. Though they were able to be quickly promoted in the following season, they spent many years without actually winning any titles until Wang Houjun lead them to win the Chinese FA Cup in 1991, which was their first trophy in 29 years.
Throughout the 1990s, the Chinese Football Association were demanding more professionalism from their football teams and while many were semi-professional, Shanghai would be one of the first when they gathered sponsorship from Yu Zhifei and the local company named Shenhua on the 10th of December 1993, founding Shanghai Shenhua. This then saw Shanghai hire their first professional manager in Xu Genbao, who was the previous Chinese national team manager in 1994. The move would quickly see Shanghai win the second professional football league title by the end of the 1995 league season. When he left, Shanghai attempted to bring in several foreign coaches to add more experience to the team, however few achieved any success despite being close on several occasions, except for Muricy Ramalho's brief spell when the club won the 1998 Chinese FA Cup. By the end of 2001, the Shenhua group ended their sponsorship of the club and were replaced with SVA and the Shanghai Media & Entertainment Group. The club changed its name to Shanghai Shenhua SVA SMEG Football Club. The team however remained unique as it still retains "Shenhua" in its name, whereas many other teams drop the name of their former sponsors completely. On the pitch, the club would take over Shanghai Cable 02, a youth football team set up by Xu Genbao while also bringing in a new manager in Wu Jingui, who built a new squad predominantly using many from the Shanghai Cable squad and despite struggling in his debut season, he was able to win the league title in 2003. Critics would dispute the legitimacy of the title win after it was discovered in 2011 that the referee Lu Jun was bribed by the head of the CFA's referee arrangements, Zhang Jianqiang, to be biased towards Shenhua in a vital match against Shanghai International in a game that Shenhua won 4–1. Lu Jun and Zhang Jianqiang were both officially charged with match-fixing, and it was also discovered that the Shenhua's general manager Lou Shifang also paid Zhang Jianqiang the same amount as Lu Jun. Despite this indiscretion, however, the club was spared any disciplinary action. The reason provided by the CFA for the leniency was that they would be punishing the individuals who put the game in disrepute and not the club; because Lou Shifang was Shenhua's offending participant and had left the club several years before the allegations were confirmed, it would have been harsh to punish the club retrospectively. On 18 February 2013 The CFA would decide to change its mind on Shenhua and retrospectively decided to punish the club by revoking its 2003 league title, fining the club with 1 million Yuan and giving a 6 point deduction at the beginning of the 2013 Chinese Super League season after it was discovered that they also fixed another game against Shaanxi Guoli F.C. en route to winning the 2003 league title.
In 2007, the owner of inner-city rival of Shanghai United, Zhu Jun and his company The9 Limited bought a majority share of Shanghai Shenhua and began to merge Shanghai United into Shanghai Shenhua. His first act was to replace the previously successful existing head coach Wu Jingui with Shanghai United's Osvaldo Giménez. The appointment was to prove highly disruptive and Wu Jingui was quickly brought back as the head coach after only a few months, but was sacked on 9 September 2008. Jia Xiuquan took over his position on the same day. This was followed by the club adding to their backroom staff when in January 1, 2009 Shenhua made Chinese football history by becoming the first Chinese team to hire a foreign CEO and a technical director when on 1 January 2009, the club hired former manager Osvaldo Gimenez as their chief executive officer. One day later, former PSV Eindhoven technical director Stan Valckx joined Shenhua in the same position.
After a disappointing 2011 season in the Chinese Super League, Zhu Jun decided to bring in a marquee player, so on 12 December 2011 it was confirmed that Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka will be arriving in Shanghai in January 2012, while six days later it was announced that his compatriot Jean Tigana would be the head coach from the 2012 season. Tigana was fired after a poor string of results and was replaced by former Argentinian national team coach Sergio Batista to lead the team. After a successful season playing for Chelsea F.C and winning the 2011–12 UEFA Champions League, Ivorian striker Didier Drogba signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with Shenhuaon. This was soon followed by the signing of Colombian international footballer Giovanni Moreno from Argentinian club Racing Club. These signings were intended to boost the clubs title challenge and see Zhu Jun's investment within the club reach 150 million Yuan, which he believed gave him a controlling stake of 70 per cent as promised by the other share-holders. When the other share-holders decided not to agree upon this arrangement Zhu Jun decided to pull his funding of the club, which resulted in the team finishing in a disappointing ninth and both Anelka and Drogba leaving the club. The relationship between Zhu Jun and the other share-holders became even more fractious at the beginning of the 2013 league season when the Chinese FA issued the club with a six point deduction for match-fixing ten years prior and a fine of one million Yuan. This would lead to a share-holder dispute between the other shareholders SVA, Shanghai Media Group, Shanghai Electric Group and Huangpu SASAC on who should pay for this fine, which saw a gap in the club finances that saw Rolando Schiavi, Patricio Toranzo and Giovanni Moreno refuse to play the March 31, 2013 league game against Liaoning because of unpaid wages.
Zhu Jun era ended on 31 January 2014 when the club was purchased by Greenland Holding Group Company Limited. On 6 February 2014, Greenland Holding Group Company Limited announced that the club's name was changed into Shanghai Greenland F.C., however Shenhua still remain in the club's team name in order to reflect the club's heritage. The name and subsequent badge alterations, which eliminated Shenhua from the teams logo was criticized by many of the club's supporters who publicly voiced their dissatisfaction with this on 9 March 2014 during the league game against Shanghai Shenxin as they saw losing Shenhua from the club's name as a besmirch on the teams heritage and history.